Podium for Gradient Racing on its debut at Circuit of the Americas.
A superb weekend for Gradient Racing saw the Austin-based team find the podium in only its first event in the Blancpain GT World Challenge America at Circuit of the Americas. Ryan Eversley and Till Bechtolsheimer took fifth position in the Pro-Am Class in Saturday’s opening 90 minute race and then followed it up 24 hours later with an outstanding run to second place at the testing 20 turn, 3.427 mile home of the US Formula One Grand Prix.
Bechtolsheimer climbed into the Red Line Oil/Unit Nutrition Acura NSX GT3 Evo with just over half of Sunday’s Race 2 left to run. A slight delay during the stop meant that the New York City based Briton resumed in 15th position overall and P8 in the Pro-Am class. With a clear track ahead of him, Bechtolsheimer used his new Pirelli tires to great effect setting the car’s fastest lap of the weekend as he closed in on a group of Pro-Am cars immediately ahead of him.
With 18 minutes to go a brief full course yellow gave Till exactly the opportunity he needed as the field bunched up in advance of a frantic dash to the line. With just over 10 minutes left, the green flag dropped with Bechtolsheimer 10th overall and P5 in his class. This soon became 4th as he quickly dispatched the Mercedes of Stephen Aghakhani and within another lap Bechtolsheimer had moved into 2nd place as the #31 Ferrari was forced off the track and into retirement by the #71 Mercedes which was then disqualified for the infringement. Now under ten seconds behind the leading Racers Edge Acura, Bechtolsheimer did all he could to bridge the gap. In the end the deficit was reduced to under 3 seconds but the top step of the podium proved to be just out of reach.
The result is all the more remarkable considering the #5 NSX GT3 Evo started from the ninth row of the grid and was delayed further as starting driver, Ryan Eversley, skillfully avoided the chaos that is synonymous with Circuit of the Americas’ Turn 1 (see below). The Atlanta based driver, barely put a foot wrong as he moved his way towards the front of the field. With just over 30 minutes gone, Eversley had moved up to 11th position overall and was closing in on Matt Plumb’s Ferrari and a spot in the Top 10. The pit window opened before Eversley could make the pass on track but the stint provided his teammate with a strong platform to make a run to the flag and the first podium in the short life of Gradient Racing.
“It was a lot of fun and considering where we started the race today, we were not expecting to be on the podium for sure,” explained an extremely satisfied Bechtolsheimer. “The car felt good, it was an improvement over yesterday, the first half of my stint was pretty lonely, I was out there by myself but it gave me clean track so I was able to focus on lap times while I had the team on the radio telling me what my lap times were relative to the guys in front which indicated that I was catching them at quite a clip. We then got lucky with the full course yellow which allowed the field to pack up and let us do some racing at the end. We made good progress through the field, ended up second and if we had maybe had ten minutes more, I think we would have caught the leader. The top step of the podium would have been nice but there is always next time.”
For Ryan Eversley, his team and teammates performance left a strong impression on him. “I really can’t say enough about how well Gradient performed in their first race as a new team competing against some of the strongest GT3 teams in the business like the TR3 Ferrari team who won the title last season and the Wright Motorsport team with all its support from Porsche.”
“I was blown away by how Till adapted to this car and this track and this tire which he had not been on prior to last week’s test here. If you’re in this paddock right now, you’re probably wondering who Till Bechtolsheimer is because he was absolutely flying in Race 2 and he was the reason we were on the podium today. “
Saturday’s opening race saw Bechtolsheimer take the opening stint but an ill-handling car put paid to Eversley’s efforts to get on the podium in the second half of the 90 minute race. Ultimately a 5th place finish in Pro-Am was a solid return and the lessons learned helped improve the car leading to the increase in competitiveness in Race 2.
With 5th and 2nd in the opening two rounds, Gradient Racing sits P3 in the Championship standings as we now look towards Rounds 3 and 4 of the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge America at Virginia International Raceway on April 27th and 28th.